Consumer Product Safety Commission got permission yesterday to offer early retirement to long-service headquarters workers in certain grades and jobs. CPSC has been cutting staff -- by firing people -- and hopes to avoid further budget-induced layoffs this year by encouraging senior workers to volunteer to be involuntarily retired.

Normally federal workers must be at least 55 before they can retire on immediate annuities. But under federal law, agencies can -- with the permission of the Office of Personnel Management -- offer early-outs on a selective basis to anyone with 25 years' service, or anyone age 50 with at least 20 years of government time. OPM gave the agency authority yesterday to offer the early-outs through Nov. 15.

In September, CPSC got early-out authority for nine regional and three district offices and six field units. The new early-out, limited to people in Grades 6 through 15, is for headquarters people in these jobs: economist, staffing specialist, clerk-typist, secretary, program manager, administrative officer, office service administrator, management analyst, program analyst, accounting technician, voucher examiner, budget analyst, consumer safety officer, attorney, public information specialist, illustrator, visual information officer, education assistant, chemist, librarian, statistician, printing officer, distribution facilities officer and the 301 series.

At the beginning of the year CPSC had 915 staffers. It is now below 700. Headquarters here has 540 workers.

Other agencies that are under the gun to trim staff and/or cut budgets are looking at the early-out route, as well as considering furloughs this year to avoid or minimize pre-Christmas layoffs.